I love games of all shapes, sizes, and offerings. I love how they deliver journeys of adventure and the discovery into the unknown. I love how they can make us players nervous or bold, how they make us laugh, and how sometimes they make us cry. Some games guide you like a little child lost on the first day of school, and others just throw you straight in at the deep end. Manifold Garden is a game that makes me happy to be a gamer; one who is privileged to experience new experiments like this. It’s a brain twister, but in a brilliantly interesting way, and I want to explain to you how I grew to love this game.
If your idea of an Eisher painting with its spiral stairwells endlessly looping, or the thought of falling through space rapidly only to land in the same place you’ve jumped from provides horrible nightmares, then you might have to drink something strong and take a deep breath before loading up Manifold Garden. It’s a game that will blow your mind at times, as it changes your perceptions of perspective and architecture so much that you won’t know what is up and what is down. It took William Chyr – the main developer – seven years to shape this game and you can really tell why.
Manifold Garden doesn’t give you a character breakdown or any explanation as to why you’re in this world or what you are meant to be doing. The actual instructions you receive are of the bare minimum, as it throws you in deep and leaves you to work out what is what. It’s all set in the first-person and as you progress through ever-changing worlds, levels, and structures you begin to realise that there is a narrative running throughout; it’s just it’s hidden underneath the madness. Personally, I think it’s one about regeneration.
So how does this play I hear you ask? Well, Manifold Garden is a first-person puzzle adventure that could be comparable to games like Portal or The Talos Principle. You enter an area and then just get on with taking in everything that is in front of you. In a simple example, you may need to press a coloured button on a switch to open a door. But here’s the thing: as I mentioned earlier, the world around you defies the laws of physics and the ideas of perspective. So the switch and the door could be on the ceiling of the room you are in. The test is how you get to them.
The solution is that a click of a button on one of the walls or surfaces will see the room pivot around one revolution. Hit the right surface twice and your door and switch are now fully usable in the right direction for travel. As I say, that’s the simple version. Each area you’re in represents a colour too, so while you might start in a red area, as you touch a wall or surface and the room pivots you may now be present in a yellow area. The colour of the area will probably relate to what colour the switch is to open the door.
Blocks or cubes are involved heavily too. So you might need to collect a red block and it needs to be used to activate a pad to open a door on the ceiling again. But when you switch the perspective of the room to the ceiling the colour is yellow and the red block is stuck on the ceiling. How do you get the block over to the yellow side? Well, that is something that will only be dictated by your own mind, and it is only your brain which will be able to decide whether or not this game is going to be one for you or not. It’s an utter mind melter and it’s up to you to use all your puzzle skills, thinking forty thousand miles outside of the box to solve the many different conundrums presented on this journey. Of course, it’s not all as simple as I’ve previously explained either – other elements are presented into the world later on; things like streams of water that need redirecting to operate machinery or blocks that can change colour by using a device.
Personally, I have loved this game, but I’m fully aware of how and why some might find it too overwhelming; especially to begin with. It takes a certain mindset to understand how the gameplay works and how a variety of gameplay elements are used – whilst some will be able to work with it, others may well be left frustrated. It took me a good half an hour of playing to suddenly get into the groove, working out the rules and understanding the physics before I found myself to be fully committed. And for me, whilst it started off tricky, strangely Manifold Garden seems to get easier as you go, even though the tasks required of you are much more complicated.
It is in the visuals where Manifold Garden flourishes and it is, without a doubt, outstanding to look at. Eisher is a good marker and it is this inspiration which lets the visual side of things go into overdrive – stairwells that go on for infinity are stunning to look at. Yes, it may seem like a nightmare, but there are moments of immense beauty hidden within. A personal favourite is found when you fall off a ledge – hurtling through the sky only to land in the same spot never fails to impress. It truly is a work of art.
The game has a very relaxing soundtrack as well; one that is stunning to listen to on its own but also able to provide the most soothing affair for when you want to scream to the god of puzzlers. The effects are amazing as well, from the thud of when you fall a small way to the ground, to the whooshing effect when you fall forever through space.
I would highly recommend Manifold Garden on Xbox One to any fans of the puzzle genre; especially those who have devoured games like Portal or The Witness. It will test your brain to its limits, twisting and turning every thought you may have about reality and perception. It could well be overwhelming for some, but on the whole, if you give it time, the visuals, the soundtrack, the concept and the gameplay of Manifold Garden will more than deliver.